Tag Archives: UK

Where’s that accent from?

I always had a unique sense of style.

I always had a unique sense of style.

I don’t have an accent.

That always starts an argument over here.

“Yes you do!” people say. “You have a British accent. You sound different to us Canadians.”

And that’s true enough. But people don’t often say “Is that a British accent?”  They say “Where’s that accent from?” and when I say “The UK.”, they say “Oh yeah? London?”

Because, you know, most of the UK is covered in London. Except for the bit that is Scotland.

We went to Scotland once. It was shut.

We went to Scotland once. It was shut.

Anyway, when I say no, it’s not London, people ask where exactly it’s from. And I sigh, and say “It isn’t from anywhere. I don’t have an accent.”

I don’t have a REGIONAL accent, is what I mean. I was born Oop North, and grew up talking like this   but when I was still quite young, we moved down south, where everyone spoke very differently. With only my brother sharing my peculiar way of speaking, I quickly adapted to a more moderate accent. I say “glass” with a long “a”, like in “Darcy”, rather than “passive”. When I say “castle”, it rhymes with “parcel”, not “hassle”. I may have picked up the Hampshire accent, but it’s not really very regionally distinct, so I can’t be sure.

I lived in Portsmouth for a while. Some parts are damper than others.

I lived in Portsmouth for a while. Some parts are damper than others.

The UK is rich with regional accents, and it’s quite amazing to consider the variation over such a small area. I still don’t understand the Canadian need to pin down a specific location, when so many of the people who are asking haven’t been to the UK, and (more importantly) don’t share any of our own regional prejudices.

 

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Preparing to recross the pond

It’s been a long time since I’ve talked about emigrating. Long ago life settled down into a regular form, became just the ordinary every day. Yes, there are still times I marvel that we live in Canada, that I tell which direction I’m driving by seeing the mountains on the North Shore, but I don’t convert dollars into pounds any more, trying to see if things are cheaper or more expensive. I don’t flinch from saying “pants” instead of “trousers”, and I no longer think “parkade” is a fizzy drink.

Soon we’ll head back to the UK for our second visit since we emigrated. This time we’ll be going back in the winter, with all the added unpredictability that brings. Will there be a sprinkling of snow that closes roads and railways? Having once shoveled my driveway clear three times in the same day, I’m inclined to roll my eyes at that thought. And we don’t get “real” snow here in the Vancouver area… Just ask someone from Winnipeg.

Our last trip back was a summertime thing, and we met friends on the beach in Bournemouth. We walked through parks, in London and Worcester. When I think of going back, those are the images that come to mind.

Weasels and pigeons in the park, Bournemouth

Weasels and pigeons in the park, Bournemouth

After a while out here the view of the UK becomes somewhat idealised, like this:

Younger Weasels and their Grandma in a very English garden.

Younger Weasels and their Grandma in a very English garden.

But we’ll be there for early nights, cold, brisk days. And probably rain. We’ll be spending almost every day going from one place to another so we can visit as many friends as possible, but we also have to set aside time so we can celebrate Christmas with the family we’ve been away from for so long.

The travel is, as ever, the part that bothers me the most. Our appreciation of distance has changed significantly. To illustrate, let me show you our last but one holiday : we went to Cardiff-by-Sea, Encinitas, by way of San Francisco. We drove, and it took a week or so to get there. It was fun (except for going through LA, obviously.) Here’s what that journey looks like:

Thank you, Google Maps!

Thank you, Google Maps!

You can see (perhaps) that that journey is 2197 km. If you need a translation, that’s 1365.153 miles, or a trip from John O’Groats to Land’s End and more than halfway back again. We did the journey home again in three days.

We won’t be traveling nearly as far in our trip around the UK, but our nomadic lifestyle prior to leaving the country means we have friends all over the place, and I look at the map of the UK Mrs Dim has pinned to the wall and the little flags stuck into it and I think….”How hard is that going to be?”

Four and a half years is quite a long time. It’s time for a child to be born and reach school age. It’s been time for one of our Weasels to reach High School and settle in. Middle Weasel is now in the top age group in her school. I’m on my third job, and am convinced the ancient curse has followed me to Canada (I worked for TVS – they lost their franchise. I worked for Peter Dominic’s – they went out of business. I worked at the Bell Hotel in Alresford – it looks like they did  a good job of rebuilding it after the fire. Here in Canada I worked for Canpages and they went out of business.) But I’m happy in my library job and hope to stay with it for a long time to come.

I guess the idea I’m circling here is that the only part of the UK we miss is the people. We moved every two years all the time we were married, and learned to place value on friendships, rather than places. We loved the old stuff like the Cathedral in Winchester, the Standing Stones in the Avebury Ring, or Roman ruins, or Iron Age Forts. We loved medieval towns and historical buildings, and we loved the modern parts of the country too, but they’re not why we’re going back. *

We’re going back to see our friends and family, and we’re only sorry we won’t be able to visit everyone in the time available. And of course, if it snows, we may not get out of the airport….

*There are certain factions within the family that maintain the ENTIRE reason for the visit is The Doctor Who Experience in Cardiff. If anyone from the BBC is reading this, we know the perfect person to co-ordinate a Doctor Who Exhibition in Vancouver – she already knows EVERYTHING about Doctor Who.

Doctor Wheasel - TARDIS not included.

Doctor Wheasel – TARDIS not included.

2011: The year of the return visit.

My first car, after I paid the price for overconfidence.

It’s been something people have asked quite frequently over the last two years: “Have you been back to the UK?”. I was always surprised to be asked – moving to a different continent was a big undertaking, after all. We’re two years in and I only just feel like we’ve got all the variables sorted out. I feel settled, so yes, maybe now is the time to go back and see friends and family.

We’re at the start of the planning process, and with five people to transport, it’s a lot to figure out. We’re looking at calendars, at flight prices, at suitcases – this isn’t going to happen in the next couple of weeks, or even the next couple of months. But we’re odds-on for this year.

The thing is, I’m scared. Not of the friends and family, obviously. It’ll be great to see them. What scares me is…Well, a couple of things.

Firstly, the silly fear. Driving. I’m not a good driver. My Driving Examiner told me at 18 that I had passed the test by the skin of my teeth, that I drove like someone who’d been driving for ten years, and he’d hate to see how I’d be driving ten years from now. At 18, that kind of statement makes no difference whatsoever, and I lasted nearly a year before writing off my car. Over here, the pace of driving is slower. My car has developed a worrying vibration at sixty miles an hour, but you know what? I don’t often feel that vibration in everyday driving. I’ve become accustomed to the Vancouver driving style, to the quieter roads, the lack of bottlenecks. For nearly two years I’ve been driving on the wrong side of the road in an automatic, and when we step off the plane after ten hours of flying and three hours of that weird “Sort of picking up bags and doing Customs but mostly just walking through the airport”, I’m going to have to get into a manual shift car and drive on the OTHER side of the road through English traffic on English roads. Do you think someone could make some sort of announcement, for the safety of other people?

And the second fear, the important one, is getting to see enough people. We’re lucky enough to have a good number of friends, but thanks to our pinball lifestyle, they’re spread far and wide across the UK. For some, travel is a challenge, and for others it may be an awkward time to ask them to scoot across the country to say hi. As someone who once spent five hours on the road in the UK, taking the family to visit friends and then had to turn back when an accident closed the only access, I can appreciate that crossing the UK to see us may not be easy, but what a shame to fly all that way and miss out on seeing folks who are so close (in Canadian terms, at least.)

So this post is part confession – I’m scared – part apology – We may not see you, sorry . But we’re flying back for the best reasons, to see family, to catch a friend’s wedding, to give the weasels a chance to see THEIR friends. If we call you and say we’re around, we’d love to see you. And if we don’t get a chance to call this time around, don’t panic – there’ll be other visits. I just might not be driving at all by then.

I hear those sleigh bells ringing…

Eldest Weasel makes a Rockin' reindeer in the school production of "North Pole Musical"

For many people here in the Greater Vancouver area, Christmas has been coming since Hallowe’en bowed out on November the first. Folks round this way really seem to enjoy decorating their houses, so barely had the month changed before the giant spiders’ webs and inflatable Frankensteins were being pulled down and replaced with miles and miles of twinkling strings of lights and inflatable snowmen and Santas. Since the World’s Largest Home Improvement Retailer skipped straight over Hallowe’en and started flogging Christmas decos way back in mid-October, I was a little jaded about the whole thing, but recently Mrs Dim and I have taken the odd stroll out along our neighbourhood of an evening, and I have to say I’m charmed. Yes, by UK standards, I suppose the houses look a little gaudy, and there’s an austerity measures voice in my head that mutters about the electricity bill all these people must have to pay in January, but look, it’s PRETTY, ok?

If the lights are going up and the evenings are drawing in, then the weasels must be performing in the school play, right? I fear so, but this being Vancouver, the multi-cultural melting pot of the most laid-back country in the Northern Hemisphere, we won’t risk anything as controversial as tea-towel wearing re-enactments of the Nativity. Nope, last year’s fiesta was a play that stressed the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People (a common theme for the school that year) and this year we had the North Pole Musical, where the inhabitants of Santa’s workshops competed to see who would get to perform in the musical. This year the performance was by the elder two age groups in the school, so the singing was more tuneful and there was less “Ahh, doesn’t he look lovely?” from the watching parents.

Middle Weasel had a less demanding role - First Flower in the three-minute Nutcracker

As always, I was torn between enjoying the show and wishing I had written something for them. At the climax of the piece, Santa, Mrs Claus and Crystal Snowflake sing a song about the heart of Christmas, which seems to be about, you know, peace and love, and hope and generally nice but vague concepts. Because, you know, it’s Christmas. A time for presents, and…stuff.

I can appreciate that not everyone at the weasels’ school wants to celebrate Christmas as a Christian festival, but recently we (being TLC Creative) were asked to consider writing a secular piece for a schools Christmas show. I was hesitant, because I dread getting to that moment when one of the characters steps forward to talk about the true meaning of Christmas. I’m sorry, but if you’re atheist, agnostic or of another religion (all of which are fine by me, go right ahead…) then there is no true meaning of Christmas for you. Just as Eid, Ramadan and Diwali mean nothing at all to me. I won’t stop you celebrating them, and if you ask me to come along and hold up a lantern in a Diwali celebration, why I’d love to. Sounds like a neighbourly thing to do. But does it mean anything to me? Nope. So just as I wouldn’t write a secular play on the true meaning of Diwali being what draws a group of street kids to reform their thieving ways and become teachers, I don’t feel comfortable writing about the True Spirit of Christmas being to give out presents and be nice to people you don’t like the rest of the year.

This feeling comes round every year and it makes Mrs Dim cross because she has always worked in a multi-faith, multi-cultural environment, whereas for most of my working life I’ve been in a dark room, staring at the computer screen, so she knows it’s not about the True Meaning of Christmas, it’s about making people take part in Christmas when they don’t want to. People of other beliefs have no option about Christmas, she says patiently every year, the whole place (UK, Canada, wherever) closes over the holiday and some people don’t want to celebrate Christmas. Saying “Happy Holidays” may set your teeth on edge, Mr Grumpy, but it doesn’t offend.

So let me apologise. I know a fair few atheists, agnostics, and folks who just find the whole “Them and Us”ness of religion too much bother. Fair play to you, not going to convert you. You are not a rugby ball, as I point out in one of my plays. But please, let me wish you a Merry Christmas, with no ill intent, no offense meant. I hope it brings a little light into the darkest time of the year, even if it’s only from the strings of lights around your tree.

Finding our feet

Still some unpacking left

Whatever you're looking for, it's probably in a box somewhere...

 I keep trying to remember previous moves. God knows, there have been enough of them, so why can’t I remember how long it normally takes us to get settled in?

Yes, it could be said that this was an unusual move. For one thing there was a sudden last minute delay, which scrambled things a bit, and we’d only just come back from holiday etc etc. But it’s been nearly a fortnight in the new house now, and I’m itching to be shot of the detritus of moving. I want all the boxes gone, I want the temporary piles of stuff sorted and put away. I want to be MOVED IN now, thank you.

Mrs Dim doesn’t quite agree. Right now we’re living a stripped-down version of our old life, with a lot of our everyday clutter still boxed up and in the basement. With no internal staircase, it’s all going to stay in the basement for a while, because retrieving it is a nause neither of us is interested in. The weasels haven’t noticed that they haven’t got more than ten percent of their toys available, and if we’re all getting by, then there’s the hope that instead of unpacking all those boxes, we can just shuffle them off to Yard Sales or charity shops….

We also have visitors on board at the moment. My brother and his wife have come out with their three boys, and despite Steve’s visit last September, they feel like our first official visitors. Is that because they’re family? Perhaps. They’ve rented a nice house on North Shore because we couldn’t quite put them up here (and let’s face it, if you’re on holiday, why not holiday in a nice house of your own, rather than camping out with relatives?). So, in between box opening, hanging pictures and fixing furniture, we’ve been doing the tourist stuff all over again, rediscovering why we love this area so much.

Last night we went out dinner and were gently questioned about our reasons for emigration. I went off on my usual rant about not running away from the UK so much as running towards better opportunity, better prospects for the weasels and house prices, and Mrs Dim cut across and said “Don’t be stupid! It was just because we were bored and hadn’t been anywhere exciting…” Folks, don’t make life-changing decisions just because you’re bored, that’s today’s advice. And men, never assume you know the answer to a question when your wife is in the room.

It was a lovely evening, but we came away having realised that we’ve been tremendously self-absorbed. That may be because of the emigration. Certainly we contracted to our family unit when we first arrived, since we knew no one and had only phone and e-mail to stay in touch with other family and friends. In the year that’s past we’ve expanded our circle of friends, but I wonder if all the people we speak to in the UK think we’re monomaniacs, out to convert them to the cult of Canada? We just wanted to reassure everyone that we were happy here, that it wasn’t a grim struggle for survival against the weather, the polar bars and the notion of driving on the right. Now that has given way to a genuine pride in the place that we live, a love of the life we have here.

Next time you call, Skype, or mail us, feel free to tell us to shut the hell up and listen for five minutes…..